Arts in Every Classroom

I usually spend my Saturday mornings watching cartoons. But, you know, they are into repeats now so the last few weekends, I have been flipping through the channels. On one of the local public access channels, I have come across a series of programs put together by Annenberg/CPB about teaching the arts to elementary school children.

The programs for Arts in Every Classroom are really fantastic. But let me first promote the above link to those readers who may not read to the end of the entry. You can watch all the 8 one hour programs over a high speed connection by video on demand for free.

So off with you if you have to go or want to watch the shows immediately. Everyone else, let me tell you why I liked watching the shows. (Keeping in mind, I haven’t watched them all.)

What I liked was that the programs alternate showing the teachers discussing and executing the activities in the workshop and then working with the students back in the classroom. And really, while it is fun to see how silly adults look doing some of these things, the rewarding part is realizing the kids really get it!

One of my favorite activities is watching the students make hats that express an idea, integrate that idea into movement while wearing the hat and then discuss how the construction of the hat dictated the way they moved (they moved carefully so that pieces didn’t fall off or perhaps wiggle too much indicating more joy than they intended, etc).

Leading up to the hat construction, the students were shown period costumes and were asked what sort of person would wear those clothes. The students responded with observations about everything from social class to the climate of the place in which the person lived.

This is what I thought was so fantastic about the program–it was crossing so many subject areas. In just one or two episodes, the classes were touching upon dance, visual arts, history, physics, acting, teamwork, etc.

Even though the observation about climate was based on the fact that the costume had layers upon layers dictated more by fashion than weather, the students did show some good critical thinking skills. Another example that pops to mind was that the students attributed a costume as belonging to either a poet or a prince. When asked why they felt the clothing would be worn by people of two distinctly separate classes, the students’ answer showed that they had a sense that a person would want to dress to the level of the company they hoped to keep. (The old adage of dressing for the job you want, not the one you have.)

The other thing I liked was the fact you couldn’t dismiss these activities as ones only a school with money and resources could afford to engage in. In many of the in-school segments, you can clearly see the classes are occuring on the floor of the cafeteria with the tables pushed up against the walls.

These are schools that don’t have the resources for an arts room of any size and have to squeeze classes in around lunch. I have taken programs into a number of these schools. In some, the transformation from classroom to lunchroom and back is pulled off with astounding coordination in the course of 3-5 minutes.

Anyway, it looks as if the program may have run its course on the cable access channel so I may have to watch the show on the ‘Net if I want to see more. I will let you know if I am impressed further.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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